TIME Social Media

How Facebook Could Sabotage Your Blind Date

Young blonde woman in kitchen preparing food checks laptop
Don Bayley—-Getty Images

Think twice before you cyberstalk—seeing someone online may make face-to-face interactions more stressful

We’ve all been guilty of Facebook stalking – looking up strangers who we might be meeting face-to-face soon – a blind date, a potential employee, or even the friend of a friend. It’s supposed to make us feel a little more comfortable and prepared when the real-life meeting actually takes place.

Or maybe not. Especially if you have mild social anxiety. In a study involving female college students, Shannon Rauch and her colleagues found that surprisingly, a Facebook introduction tended to make some people more nervous during the face-to-face meeting.

MORE: This Is Your Brain on Facebook

Rauch, an assistant professor of psychology at Benedictine University in Arizona, and her colleagues recruited 26 undergraduates and asked them to take a social anxiety test. A week later, the team invited to participants to what they called a facial recognition test – the students were hooked up to a monitor to measure changes in how well the skin in their hands conducted electricity (the more aroused a person is, the better the skin conducts electrical signals) while they looked at either pictures of people or actual people in the testing room. There were four groups: one saw only a person’s Facebook profile page, another saw only a person in the room, another saw a person’s Facebook profile and then saw the person in the room, while the final group saw a person in the room and then perused her Facebook page. For the live encounters, both the participants and the visiting person were told not to interact or talk to one another, which limited the experience to just being in the person’s company.

MORE: The Two Faces of Anxiety

The students who first viewed a person’s Facebook profile and then saw the person in the room showed higher arousal scores than those who simply saw the person, without a prefacing Facebook encounter. That surprised Rauch a bit, since most of the data on digital social interaction suggested the online experience could help to calm the anxiety of meeting someone for the first time in person. “Intuitively we all thought it should help to pave the way a little bit,” she says of her findings, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

MORE: Employers: Facebook Party Pics Don’t Always Reflect Employees’ Bad Judgment

Instead, the Facebook priming made them more aroused. Rauch says the study just measured arousal, and not levels of stress hormones so she can’t say whether the participants were more anxious. It’s possible, for example, that the students were just more excited by the face-to-face encounter, which is a natural response to seeing someone. But Rauch believes that the change was more negative than positive, since it raised arousal, instead of calming it, which is what a more positive effect of the Facebook encounter would have had.

The effect was strongest among those who scored higher on the social anxiety test, which suggests that the real-life encounter was still more arousing than the online one – something that previous studies have shown. Online interactions may feel more safe and comforting to those with social anxiety, since they have more control over the situation.

MORE: How You Deal With Your Emotions Can Influence Your Anxiety

The results go against the idea that online experiences can be a helpful way for some people with social anxiety disorders to gradually get used to real life encounters. “If your goal is to calm yourself for the face-to-face encounter, Facebook is probably not the best strategy,” says Rauch.

Why? The initial online experience could start a process of rumination that leads to expectations and comparisons that the real life encounter may not meet or fulfill. That’s supported by a growing number of studies that show regular Facebook users don’t feel good about themselves, because they are constantly comparing themselves to their peers – on looks, accomplishments and goals.

Rauch hopes the work starts to question conventional wisdom about how social media helps, or even harms, social connections, and plans to study the effect in more detail, by giving participants more choice and control over the real-life interaction, and giving them more opportunity to plan the encounters. “We’d like to start using physiological data to start challenging notions of how social media affects social connections,” she says.

TIME mental health

LSD Therapy Lowers Anxiety, Study Finds

People facing imminent death could benefit from the hallucinogenic

Scientists in Switzerland are testing the anxiety-lowering effects of LSD on people near death, and are reporting promising results.

A new study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease finds that people who are facing imminent death from cancer can experience positive changes in their anxiety levels from talking to a therapist while under the influence. LSD research has been banned in the U.S. since 1966.

The 12 participants–the majority of whom had terminal cancer–met with lead study author Dr. Peter Gasser for weekly therapy sessions for two months. Eight of the patients received full doses of LSD during their sessions, while the other four received a lesser dose. During their “trips,” which could last up to 10 hours, patients talked about their fears of dying and experienced distressing emotions.

A year after their sessions, researchers found that anxiety levels had improved by 20% on standard measures those for those who got a full dose, and that this lower anxiety level appeared to remain even after therapy. For the participants who took a lower dose of LSD, their anxiety worsened.

With only 12 people, the study is too small to make any significant conclusions. However, it’s part of a bigger movement among psychiatrists to use hallucinogens in therapy for disorders like PTSD and severe anxiety, The New York Times reports. Other researchers are also currently testing the effects of similar drugs on patients’ anxieties.

[The New York Times]

TIME Work & Life

Your Life is Terrible Because You Are a Commuter

At least now you know

Heaven help you if you ride the bus for more than half an hour to work because that, according to a new study out Wednesday, is the worst possible commute you can have.

The study, released Wednesday by the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics, finds that “commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.”

If you don’t ride the bus for more than 30 minutes, don’t be too quick to leap for joy—any commute more than 15 minutes long tends to lower life satisfaction.

And if you’re a health nut don’t be too quick to celebrate you 45-minute, sweat-soaked trail ride into work every day. Though active commuters are in better health, in terms of mental well-being, the results still hold true even for people riding a bike or walking to work if those commutes last longer than 15 minutes.

Then again, the study only included UK residents. Maybe British buses are just that awful.

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